While I'm talking about what I've learned from relationships, this year I've learned another relationship lesson, about the treasure of being part of a trio (not the singing kind), but also the trickiness of it.
The number three is one of the numbers that carries unspoken significance, like the rule of three. It can signify something good, it can signify something bad. In relationships it has it's moments with both.
The Trinity of course is the epitome, showing us there can be a sacredness to triune relationships. The threesome at the very least brings to mind the obvious intimacy imbalance. Most of us are far, far from either of those experiences however we sometimes get a glimpse of the harmony and the discord.
I have been a part of a few trios over the years, but growing up as one of three sisters has held the most lessons of the delicate balance of a three-sided relationship.
At first, as young siblings, the decks are stacked towards an equal balance in affection for each other. As kids we had the same exact upbringing, the same life experiences, the same people we live with shaping us, we were all in the same season of life - school/dependence, had mostly the same social circles and developed similar hobbies and interests.
Of course, we were kids, the 'still growing into our maturity' often tanked the equality. There is also the dynamic of growing up that involves testing out boundaries in relationships, learning to assert our identities. And don't forget plain old taking loved ones for granted, choosing 'me' over 'us'. That meant it was frequently 2 vs 1, but at least the 2 and 1 were fairly equally rotated. :)
Then, within a couple of years, circumstances all changed. Our common experiences slowed, the distance grew but at least so had our maturity, and so, the balance returned. We had a lot of common interests between the 3 of us, then I had some with my sister Jodi that I didn't have with Tami, and vice versa, but still all very fairly distributed. Gatherings were time for the 3 of us, and throughout the rest of the year it once again rotated between 2 out of 3 of us, but no taking sides this time, just dependent on who could travel the distance to spend time together.
That is until circumstances changed again. Tami and I ended up sharing a common experience of infertility. That was the starting point of a deeper connection, the more we shared our heart about that it seemed the more the Holy Spirit was moving in us and through us to help each other, and our spiritual connection grew deeper as well. In our eyes, I don't think it ever shifted the balance, we loved and valued Jodi no less, we made no less time for her. But then again, we weren't the one whose connection wasn't growing deeper.
One day the reality of trios and their inevitable lopsidedness became very real. The fact is, amongst humans, a completely equal three-sided relationship is impossible. Once you accept that, when you are the one who feels the imbalance, you have two choices:
1) You can decide that you value the tri-bond over your own desires to be preferred.
2) You can let envy squash the bond, becoming jealous and competitive.
Essentially that's what it comes down to, the person who feels the imbalance doesn't feel as important as the other two are to each other.
But then, when it becomes known to the other two, they also have two choices.
1) You can address it honestly
2) You can pretend it isn't happening
Of course, either of those responses are no guarantee of a positive outcome. Like the saying 'it takes two', in this situation, it takes three.
Boundaries of course come into play as well, we have to take responsibility for our actions, our expectations, our feelings, and if you are trying to make any of these the responsibility of someone else, relationships in general will not work well. A trio is no different, and actually can make it more evident and a bigger point of contention.
So, with that in mind, when the two of us became aware, we brought up a discussion because we wanted to strengthen our friendship rather than letting this weaken it. We acknowledged that Jodi had the right to feel the way she felt, however also explained we were not in control or responsible for her feeling less important. We clarified how we perceived the situation, and that we loved and valued her no less in our minds. We also explained it wasn't fair to ask us to defer our one-on-one relationship, especially since we all had one, and in fact, Jodi & Tami spent a lot more one-on-one time than I did with either of them.
As we discussed it a few things became evident. There was only one solution if Jodi were going to hold our actions responsible for the separation she felt, and if we were going to take ownership of how she chose to feel, we'd have to try to shut down our connection, which would only serve to take away her responsibility to deal with her own feelings and expectations. This was not an option.
So we continued talking and something else became evident, being able to be mature and talk about our feelings, in an honest and vulnerable way, not only brought us closer, in and of itself, but it led us to initiate deeper connections in other ways that would strengthen our tri-bond and de-emphasize the bond Tami and I had without actually making it less important or feeling like a competition. Now, we're even closer than ever.
Sisters are of course not exactly the same dynamics of unrelated friendships, because I think the playing field can be much more even without the added rivalry friendships can have, adding titles like 'best' and 'bestie', or having friendships in different arenas and stages of life, etc. I don't know if the self-doubt ever fully stops, but now when I feel that bitterness arise in my own chest, that insecurity that I can't compete, I stop myself.
I stop myself from going down that rabbit hole and I draw strength from the foundation of great friendships I've had/have, where I have experienced the intimacy of being deeply important in each others lives. AND, I need to allow others the space to find that as well.
Even in a trio. Especially in a trio.
It doesn't lessen my bond. It doesn't lessen my value. In fact, as I've found out first hand, quite the contrary, that kind of maturity increases them.